A Cape Region mother has agreed to testify against her husband, who police say waterboarded his daughter as a form of discipline.
Pauline Morse pleaded guilty May 20 to three misdemeanor charges of endangering the welfare of a child. Other felony charges against her, including conspiracy, were dropped in exchange for her willingness to testify against her husband, Melvin Morse.
The couple was arrested in their home Aug. 7, 2012, and charged with felony counts of endangering the welfare of a child and conspiracy. Both Melvin and Pauline Morse were out on bail days after their arrest.
State police began an investigation of the Morses after learning about an incident July 12, 2012 when, police say, Melvin Morse grabbed his then 11-year-old child by the ankle and dragged her across a gravel driveway outside of their Route 9 home.
When detectives interviewed the child, police say she told them she was disciplined using what her father had called “waterboarding” four times over a two-year period. She told police Melvin Morse held her face under a running faucet, causing water to go up her nose and cover her face.
A subdued Pauline Morse stood in court before Judge Richard F. Stokes in Sussex County Superior Court wearing black pants and a beige button-up blouse next to her attorney, Public Defender Dean Johnson. Morse said only “yes” and “no” to the judge as she admitted guilt to endangering the welfare of her daughter between May 22, 2011, and July 12, 2012.
“Ms. Morse has agreed to participate in the prosecution of Dr. Melvin Morse,” Johnson said.
Stokes sentenced Morse to one year of probation for each of the three counts. He also ordered that she have no contact with her husband, and that visits with her two daughters, ages 12 and 6, continue to be supervised by Delaware Division of Family Services; both girls are currently in foster care.
Stokes noted if Morse fails to cooperate with the state in the case against her husband, the state could ask that her plea agreement be vacated, and she would again face all the initial charges against her.
Melvin Morse is scheduled to face trial Monday, June 10. His attorney, Joe Hurley, said the state is using Morse's children as leverage to force her to testify against her husband. "All very legal, but kind of unseemly," he said. "I feel sorry for Pauline."
Hurley called accusations that Melvin Morse waterboarded his daughter "spin."
"He did wash the child's hair under the faucet," Hurley said of his client. "Pauline saw one or more instances of that."
Hurley said he was not surprised by Morse's decision, and strategically it is better that she testify against her husband as a witness for the prosecution than as a co-defendant.
"I always knew she was going to point the finger at him," Hurley said. "She was going to do it as a co-defendant," he said. "She was going to stab us in the back."
"This puts her one step closer to getting her children," Hurley said.